America’s republican form of government is only possible because of the one person, one vote election process. This means that we have all agreed on the mechanics of the system, and that our votes all counted equally in determining the outcome, at least in theory.
This system has been the basis of popular sovereignty in America for nearly 250 years. However, challenges to the one person, one vote system have been creeping into many states’ elections, oftentimes originating at the local level, and going by the name of ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting.
In RCV, a voter will rank each candidate for an office in order of his or her preference. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of first choice votes is eliminated, and those votes are then reallocated to the second choice of the affected ballots and these automatic runoffs continue until a candidate receives a majority of first preference votes.
Yes, it’s confusing. A new article from The Federalist points out that Tennessee and Florida have already banned RCV due to similar concerns and after using the system in a June 20 primary. Arlington, Virginia decided not to use system for the fall elections based on how confused voters were about the process.
The same article also confirms much of the our previous research on the effects of RCV. Proponents say that RCV is more inclusive and encourages more participation. But our findings suggest the system can, in many cases, lead to disenfranchisement due to “ballot exhaustion,” which occurs when all of the voter’s preferences have been eliminated, but the count continues—essentially making that voter’s ballot useless.
The Federalist article provides an example of this in the 2022 at-large congressional election in Alaska. Democrat Mary Peltola won even though “nearly 60 percent of voters [cast] their ballots for a Republican.” More than 11,000 voters voted for only one Republican candidate—and no one else. Because that ballot had two Republicans, the vote was split and Peltola won. Had there been a traditional ballot there would have been one Republican candidate and that candidate would have garnered nearly all of the Republican votes and defeated Peltola with 59.6% of the vote. Instead, in the second round of voting, enough ballots were eliminated through ballot exhaustion that Peltola was able to defeat Palin by 3 points and become the first Democrat to hold Alaska’s only seat in the House since the 1970s.
Another purported advantage that has been contradicted by evidence is the claim that RCV is a bipartisan policy. The Federalist article points out that “of the 74 pro-RCV bills introduced in state legislatures in the past year,” only 8% had bipartisan support. This has some people questioning whether it is truly bipartisan.
Why does this matter to Texans? In 2021 Austin voters approved a measure supporting RCV, though it was never implemented because of legal opinions rendered by then-Secretary of State Henrey Cuellar in 2001 and then-Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2003. Without a statute outright banning this system, Texas must rely solely on common sense and voluntary compliance with these opinions.
Progressives have found a way to enable their less popular candidates to defeat their more popular conservative rivals through ranked choice voting. Many states are realizing how slow, confusing, and disenfranchising this process is, and have banned it before it can take hold. Texas needs to be one of these states to stand up for the republican form of government we were promised.